By Mary Schuermann Kuhlman,
Public News Service - MO
POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. -- Missouri kids living in areas of high poverty are already at increased risk of unfavorable outcomes, and the COVID-19 pandemic could exacerbate these disparities.
According to Missouri KIDS COUNT 2020, children’s well-being improved in several measurements between 2014 and 2018, including a drop in the number of children living in poverty. However, Rebeca Pacheco, executive director of the Butler County Community Resource Council, said she expects economic impacts from the coronavirus will be substantial for Missouri families and will likely widen the divide between communities with greater access to resources and those without.
“Our area has a 30% poverty rate, which is considerably higher than the state rate,” Pacheco said. “So, when we look at this data, we know that being in a pandemic, that’s just going to amplify issues that we’re already facing on a regular day when families aren’t in crisis.”
Despite some improvements in the physical well-being of Missouri children, the 2020 KIDS COUNT Data Book showed an increase between 2014 and 2018 in rates of youth suicide and hospitalization for substance abuse and mental health issues. Pacheco said these disturbing trends could be exacerbated by the economic impact on jobs and education created by the COVID-19 crisis.
She noted another area of concern is the impact of the pandemic on child safety.
“There’s under-reporting of child abuse and neglect, and isolation of children being in their homes all the time during the pandemic means less eyes on children,” she said. “We’re very concerned about that issue.”
Missouri KIDS COUNT is a program of the Family and Community Trust, and the report has been released annually since 1993. And Pacheco said counties can use the data to serve as a baseline for tracking the fallout from the coronavirus and the policies implemented to manage its spread.
“The data helps people drill into the really vital issues that are going on with children in their communities,” she said. “And then, they can develop strategies to improve the lives of children and families using this data.”
The Data Book is available at missourikidscountdata.org.